Criminal Law - Federal

What Is Credit Card Fraud?

Making a few online transactions with someone else’s credit card can be tempting. It can be easy to get away with, and if the owner reports the fraud, the credit card company will pay for the losses. However, there can be serious consequences if you are caught.

A conviction for federal credit card fraud charges could result in federal prison time and a criminal record. If you are facing charges for credit card fraud, talk to a criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

What Is Federal Credit Card Fraud?

With the rapid increase in online technology, people often rely on cards instead of cash. People make daily purchases through credit cards online or with their phones. And fraudsters don’t need a physical card to commit credit card theft or engage in fraudulent activity.

Some of the most common types of credit card fraud include:

  • Online fraud: Computer hackers or others use phishing scams where a credit card holder’s credit card information is stolen through a data breach.
  • Identity theft: When a person uses another’s Social Security number, birth date, and other credit card details to make unauthorized purchases or to apply for credit cards or open new accounts without the owner’s permission.
  • Credit card skimmers: When scammers attach a device at gas stations, card readers, or ATMs to steal credit card numbers from the cards’ magnetic strips.
  • False credit card application fraud: When a person uses another’s credit card information or creates fictitious information to qualify for a credit card account.
  • Insufficient funds: Using a debit card or credit card knowing you don’t have enough lender credit or money to fund the purchase.

The federal credit card fraud laws include the use of any counterfeit, fictitious, altered, forged, lost, stolen, or fraudulent credit card. It also accounts for different acts with these cards, including:

  • Use of the card
  • Transporting the card
  • Selling the card
  • Receiving or concealing fraudulent goods bought with the card
  • Receiving or concealing fraudulent transportation tickets
  • Furnishing money through the use of the card

Federal credit card fraud can be a felony offense, leaving you with a permanent criminal record for a conviction. It can also mean serious time in prison and financially devastating fines and restitution.

Who Investigates Federal Credit Card Fraud?

Credit card fraud cases can start with local law enforcement investigating complaints of theft, identity theft, or fraud. Credit card companies often do their own fraud investigations. These financial institutions have tools and algorithms to identify patterns of fraud and will refer their findings to federal investigators, who may take over the investigation. Depending on the type of fraud involved, agencies that investigate federal fraud may include:

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • U.S. Secret Service
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • FBI

What Are the Penalties for a Credit Card Fraud Conviction?

The penalties for a conviction on credit card fraud charges include:

  • Up to 10 years in federal prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

A conviction may also require restitution of any fraudulent gains. For example, if a victim of credit card fraud lost $5,000 and had to spend $1,000 to repair their credit score and credit report, a conviction may also include restitution payments of $6,000.

What Are Defenses Against Credit Card Fraud Charges?

There are legal defenses to charges of fraud. Depending on the individual situation, your lawyer can identify the best legal defense strategies, including:

  • A lack of intent to defraud
  • You had permission to use the card
  • You didn’t know it was a fraudulent credit card
  • Someone stole your identity or used your computer to commit fraudulent transactions

How Can a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Help?

An experienced criminal defense attorney can talk you through your options and common defenses and help you avoid the most serious penalties. They can challenge the evidence gathered against you and may also be able to negotiate a deal to help you avoid jail time and plead down to a lesser charge.

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